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Saltcoats Old and New

The town of the Nineyards and "My lord's Garnel House"

Chapter 02

At the harbour nothing remained but the rusty hurries. The old crane fell into use as a juvenile gymnasium; the stair, up which men climbed to a balcony to obtain a view of the horizon, was swept away; gradually there dwindled that religious veneration which surrounded the rough stone at the pier end with its undecipherable register of persons drowned at sea. The sea, beaten back by the active control of years, now took possession of the sparsely inhabited quay, overleaping the breast work and obliterating channels, tearing through the deserted patches of railway and burrowing its way through the harbour approach so as to make a yawning cleft that it required some temerity to negotiate.

The Salt Pans, which had seen the beginning of life in Saltland and the last of which still lingered mournfully on the quayside, rocked under repeated storms. These, the oldest landmarks of Saltland, eventually yielded to the powers of time. The sea-wall, rent and torn in many places, came to present a melancholy aspect to the harbour it had so long befriended. Its powers of resistance seemed to lessen as the sea, asserting its old mastery, gripped it in relentless folds, shaking it to its rocky foundations. The features of waterside activity grew fewer and fewer as the years went by; and over all there came to brood a spirit of desolation. Well might the name " Ichabod " be written on the ancient sea ramparts, for truly its glory has departed.

The appearance of the town in the year of the Union was entirely rural, not withstanding that the harbour was a reality. The extended village lay for about a quarter of a mile eastward from the quayside, around what had been a creek, at the extremity of the Firth of Clyde. On the rising ground, which was known as "The Hill", rested the houses of the little notabilities, the salt grieves and the retired mariners and their families.

From the King's highway, leading out of the harbour, the little upward incline, going abruptly towards the shore, took the wayfarer over a course of furze and rock towards Stevenston.

On the rocky knoll above the village, known as Kyleshill, only a house or two, some gardens and a farm were visible. At its base lay the outermost house of the village (now absorbed in the eastern corner of the Convalescent Home). Behind Kyleshill the Bog Cottages showed their grey stacks amongst the green trees and foliage and a bridge known as the Bowbridge, spanned the waters of the Flush, which ran down into the heart of the town's green meadow.

Further inland lay the as yet unbroken crofts or runrigs, near the site of the original chapel of Saltcoats, the gardens, which had once pertained to the monks of Kilwinning, then still blooming sweetly on the pretty ascent of the Chapelhill. Near the western crescent of the harbour bay the ancient windmill stood in solemn loneliness on the rocky promontory, around which has been drawn an enchanting ring of fairy legend and romantic association. The site is still known by the poetic name of Castleweerock. What had become of the nine patches of territory that had been given to the aborigines of Saltcoats by the Lord Glencairn?

Sub-division was by no means rapid and thus by a peep into the books of the Bailiary Court of Cunninghame and from other equally reliable data, we are enabled to piece together the fragments of residential life in the village two hundred years ago. Of the original nine yards, four only lay unbroken - those of James Brown, the "tailor" of old Saltcoats; of Robert Brown, a Sailor; of Captain Tom Bolton, worthy progenitor of a race of seafarers; and Thomas Morial, sailor, the husband of Gillies Bolton, the name of whose family (so the oldest townsfolk can tell us) became engraven in the very lanes and hedgerows of the village. There are other little celebrities whose names have come down on the lip of tradition only. In the Chapelwell neighbourhood, the grandmother of the elderly townsman remembered hearing of "Lapsie' a house and land, the house of Gregan Lyle and a house called Barshames, near the Chapelhouse and yard". Robert Bolton had a house far westward "ayont the croft" and John Bolton's was at the crofthead. Wolheugh, a long forgotten patch of territory, was an adjunct of Chapelhill.

In the midst of the Green Mailing, near the burnside - which recalls the now long - buried stream that ran through the Chapelwell Gardens - stood the historic Garnel House where Lord Montgomerie received his meal rents. John Bolton held the Coalhills. Jean Mc Neil reigned as local queen of the Close Mailing, adjoining the Closewell district of to-day; and in a recessed part of the highway, almost on the border line of the march between the Lords Montgomerie and Cunninghame, the fires of Hugh Paterson's smiddy and the sound of his anvil, gave definite picturesqueness to the rural aspect of the embryo town.